Friday, August 20, 2004

Unethical doctors at Abu Ghraib?

This story made the front page locally. A "bioethicist," Prof. Steven Miles, claimed that medics played a part in prisoner abuse. The Pentagon denies it, claiming that Prof. Miles (who ran for US Senate as a Democrat in 2000) cherry picked from abbreviated accounts. But I'm not sure why the Lancet ran the article, unless for purely political reasons.

Who is an ethicist? Anybody can hang out a shingle and claim the title, and when the most famous name in the business is Peter Singer, I have to conclude that it isn't self-policed very well. And so I generally ignore pronouncements by ethicists. "Who died and made you God?" A preacher or a rabbi can make judgments based on fairly well understood grounds. You can agree or disagree with their premises and with their judgments. But I have no idea what premises an ethicist uses: it could be anything.

Peter Singer, for example, works from the premise that all life is equally valuable, and concludes that a monkey is as valuable as he. I further conclude that the monkey is at least as wise as Peter Singer, and weight their advice equally.

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